As a media worker I like the sound of concepts like Knowledge Transfer, Knowledge Exchange, and even better, Public Engagement. So when I heard about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships I instantly speculated on the potential for my own field of documentary film and television. While factual television programming is a major conduit for transferring academic knowledge to the public, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are more about communicating with businesses and organisations such as charities.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships take place between a university and a business to improve its competitiveness and productivity through a transfer of knowledge, technology, and skills. They are funded by the Technology Strategy Board and other organisations.
In such a partnership an academic expert selects a graduate who is employed by the university to work in the business under supervision. The graduate (known as an Associate) transfers skills into the business to help the company innovate, expand or improve their performance. These partnerships have been used to develop new products, new software and new processes. The attraction for businesses is clear. They invest money, yes, but they get a considerable input of skill for free.
Partnerships last between 6 months and 3 years and in March an enhanced form was launched, the eKTP. The enhanced KTP (3 years long) brings in an additional partner from overseas, either a company or a higher education institution to give Welsh companies access to new expertise.
Given the contribution that academics make to documentary and factual programming I assumed that I would find examples of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships in my field. I imagined that perhaps, with good forward planning, one could improve a company’s understanding of a certain market or the potential of a technology to enhance viewing or to monitor a long-term production process in order to produce learning and teaching materials. However, Frank Boyd, Director of the Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network told me that there is not a single example in the UK of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership in the field of documentary programming.
When something doesn’t exist it is either because people have tried it and found it doesn’t work or no one has tried it. I couldn’t see why such a thing would be impossible. Eventually I came across a feature-length docu-drama which has just emerged from a Knowledge Transfer Project at Queen’s University Belfast. The film is entitled The Enigma of Frank Ryan and explores the controversial story of Frank Ryan (1902-44), teenage IRA volunteer, dissident republican and Spanish International Brigade volunteer, who ended his life working for the Nazis in wartime Berlin. It is a collaboration between an independent production company, the Irish-language channel TG4, a Queens University historian Fearghal McGarry and film-maker Desmond Bell – see http://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/frankryan.
The docu-drama was premiered at the Dublin Film Festival on 18 February and received favourable reviews. The screening was followed by a Q&A with Des Bell and Fearghal McGarry whose collaboration on the documentary was funded by the Arts and Humanities research Council. As the film sold out, a second screening was arranged on 26 February followed by a very lively ‘Hedge School’ panel discussion organised by History Ireland. Further screenings are scheduled for later in the spring, and at the Belfast Film Festival on 3 June as well as a broadcast on TG4. The project team will take part in ‘Reframing History: Film and the Historians’, a conference at Queen’s University, Belfast on 22 June.
Fearghal McGarry explained that the Knowledge Transfer Fellowship Scheme is designed to support academics to undertake a programme of Knowledge Transfer activity in a flexible way. The Knowledge Transfer project should be planned around an existing piece of Arts or Humanities research which has the potential to make a significant difference beyond the world of academia. Fellows may work either on their own or as part of an academic team, to collaborate with, and bring tangible benefits to non-academic organisations through a process of knowledge exchange. These benefits may be economic, social or cultural in nature. See http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/FundingOpportunities/Pages/KTFellowshipScheme.aspx
In this case a Knowledge Transfer Fellowship has got the job done and produced a documentary. As the project’s website puts it, “The project seeks to elaborate a model of good interdisciplinary practice to guide future collaborations between historians, film makers, broadcasters and their audience.” Is this a model for Welsh historians who want to make a documentary on their own terms?
Welsh universities do have Knowledge Transfer Partnerships in the Creative Industries, though not in documentary film-making. In 2010 Aberystwyth which in 2010 began a two-year project was started between the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies at Aberystwyth University and the production company Boomerang+ (producers of Cyw, Planed Plant Bach and Stwnsh). The aim was to help the company assess how some of their output for children was being received and to research the nature of their audience in order to shape future work, particularly with regard to multiplatform provision and the relationship between television and the internet. (See http://www.participations.org in May for a related article by Dr Merris Griffiths. The edition will focus on relations between industry/commercial and academic research.)
One of the University of Glamorgan’s Knowledge Transfer Projects was with Dinamo Productions to develop asset-based 3D CG models. The university’s Knowledge Transfer officer, Alun Cox recommends the following sites to anyone interested in KTPs: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/FundingOpportunities/Pages/FollowonFunding.aspx and http://www.esrc.ac.uk/funding-and-guidance/collaboration/knowledge-exchange/opportunities/index.aspx.
It is important to grasp that until very recently the Creative Industries were not thought suitable for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships because their economic significance was under-appreciated. That’s partly why I have not found any in documentary. However, the Welsh Government has just announced funding for five short Partnerships in the Creative Industries.
In this context, Newport University intends to develop new projects through the KTP funding mechanism, particularly since it has a good record of engaging in what might be called Knowledge Exchange activities. For example, its well-known film Cow graphically demonstrates the dangers of texting while driving. This was commissioned by Gwent Police and was so successful on YouTube that a collaborative not-for-profit organisation was set up called GIFT (GWENT) – Gwent Independent Film Trust – between Gwent Police and Newport University. The film is selling around the world in dvd format with learning materials, and through commercial licensing deals. The latest deals were for use in the current Road Safety Campaign run by the French Government (Jan 2012) and Slovenian Traffic Safety Campaign (Nov 2011). Its film on homelessness Loserville was commissioned by Welsh Government and shown on BBC 2 Wales on 6 March.
Knowledge Exchange is a follow-on from Knowledge Transfer. It reflects the fact that knowledge does not move only from academia into the community but can also travel the other way. Knowledge Exchange recognises the existence of various types of expertise outside academia. Among media workers this awareness of the multi-faceted nature of expertise is deeply rooted – perhaps so deeply that we take it as a given. Our ‘creative material’ has long been the lived experience of the person in the street as well as that of the specialist. We grapple daily with the task of communicating issues on which we ourselves will never be expert. Part of our expertise is in the handling of the expertise of others.
In the next fortnight there will be a full-scale launch of a new AHRC initiative in the effort to link academic research and business. The Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technologies (REACT) Hub is a Knowledge Exchange project which will promote the engagement of arts and humanities researchers in partnerships with businesses in the Creative Industries in the southwest of England and south Wales. Cardiff University , with four English universities and Bristol’s Watershed, will work with Creative Industry partners in a welcome effort to link academic expertise with creative and entrepreneurial flair and acumen. (Contact Cinzia Yates via e-mail: WalesREACT@cardiff.ac.uk. Website coming soon. See also http://www.watershed.co.uk/ished/projects/react-hub/ )
As for the potential of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships in documentary film-making, there are caveats, such as the lead-in time necessary, though turn-around can be as little as six weeks. It is easier for a broadcaster than for an independent company to initiate one since a project has to be of sufficient duration and scope to support the investment. However, the recognition of the value of Creative Industries has brought about sufficient change of attitude to make some fresh thinking possible. Here perhaps is the value of REACT which may be able to be more flexible and able to work with the intangible aspects in which the media ‘trade’ ideas, beliefs and opinions, as well as processes and technology.
I also see potential for developing teaching materials for media education out of material gleaned during the production process, offering the kind of real-world case-studies and working documents that would be great value for students – an example of a bridge between academia and media.
Ideally, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, and other schemes of this type, are supposed to be initiated by the business community so more outreach needs to be done towards the Welsh Creative Industries. The Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network hosted an event at Cardiff’s Millennium stadium on 23rd April https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/creativektn/events.